Josiah Gray Bounces Back In Pittsburgh

Coming off a series of rough starts and an extended rest, Josiah Gray looked sharp against the Pirates on Thursday.
Sep 14, 2023; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA; Washington Nationals starting pitcher Josiah Gray (40)
Sep 14, 2023; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA; Washington Nationals starting pitcher Josiah Gray (40) / Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Going into the matchup with Pittsburgh yesterday, Josiah Gray had surrendered 17 runs in only 19 innings pitched over his last 5 outings. While his start against the Yankees on 8/22 stands out--where he threw 6 innings and only allowed a single run-- the rest of the games in that period showed that Josiah Gray was struggling, and he clearly needed some extra time to recuperate and focus on his mental and physical wellbeing. This could likely be a byproduct of his workload as a young pitcher, as Arving Gonzalez suggested in an article earlier this month. Therefore the decision was made to give Josiah an extended rest of 10 days, and as a result, he came out guns blazing against the Pirates.

Josiah pitched 6.1 innings against the Bucs, only allowing 2 runs and 5 hits, and striking out a season-high 10 batters in the process. He located his pitches consistently and his stuff played well against a slumping, but still solid, Pirates lineup. Gray also modified his wind-up, leading to a more effective delivery. His pitch repertoire was effective all-around, with most of the weapons in his arsenal being utilized to great effect, especially his sweeper. He rarely wasted pitches, attacking hitters consistently and forcing 13 whiffs. Gray's command was excellent, not walking a single batter over the course of his start.

His pitch of choice for the day was his sinker, accounting for 33 of his 88 total pitches. The sinker proved useful as a pitch for forcing subpar contact, often resulting in it being fouled off or weakly sent to an awaiting outfielder. Although the spin of his sinker was down from his yearly average, the break increased slightly, adding a 2 inches of vertical break and 1 inch of horizontal break over their respective averages for the season.

While Gray's sinker was used for low-contact outs, his put-away pitch against Pittsburgh was his sweeper. He threw it 16 times to mostly favorable results. The sweeper kept hitters off balance, forcing 5 whiffs on 9 swings, the most for any of his pitches through his 6.1 innings. This led to 3 of the 10 hitters he would sit down striking out on the sweeper.

He undeniably looked fresher after his long rest period, and and his location and command reflect this. Nonetheless, despite being better in this area this season compared to last season, his biggest weakness seems to always come back to haunt him: the long ball. Gray's only two runs were given up on solo shots by Jack Suwinski and Alfonso Rivas.

Suwinski's homer showed one of Gray's biggest weaknesses that he has struggled with for several seasons: his location of any variation of fastball. He has struggled to utilize a fastball that has played well at the major league level, which is why he focused on developing a cutter in the offseason. This didn't entirely remedy Gray's issues, with the cutter yesterday being down in velocity and not having break that was effective enough to prevent solid contact. While he was able to use it well for most of the start, the cracks in his fastball usage and command eventually started to show. This led to poor placement of the pitch against Suwinski, and resulted in him driving a ball over the right field wall on the first pitch of the at-bat.

Despite the two home runs he gave up, Gray put together one of his best perfomances in weeks. He showed he could go deeper into games, pitching 6 innings for only the second time in his last 7 starts. Gray also showcased his ability to control the ball and utilize effective placement to get swings and misses. While the long ball continues to plague him, he displayed clear resilience and major improvements and adjustments from his recent skid. Hopefully this is the Josiah Gray we continue to see.